*We* are the champions…

Sport is a truly global phenomenon.

The many tentacled reach of football and athletics – in particular – to every island, forest, desert, mountain range and urban sprawl on the planet is both proof of their enduring appeal and a fantastic jumping off point for an article so long and excruciating that even the most hardened Nerdius fan will be rather happy when it’s all over. I know I was when I finished writing it.

Take the Premier League.

At the time of writing 109 of the 207 FIFA recognised countries have been represented. Some have sent a huge cohort over to England for differing, but obvious reasons: Belgium (proximity), Brazil (wealth of talent), Australia (grandparents from Salford and Colchester). Some nations have only ever had one player in the Premier League, but they still make the list.

Obviously you’d like to see that list, so here it is:

  • Albania 🇦🇱
  • Angola 🇦🇴
  • Armenia 🇦🇲
  • Burkina Faso 🇧🇫
  • Central African Republic 🇨🇫
  • Faroe Islands 🇫🇴
  • Gambia 🇬🇲
  • Gibraltar 🇬🇮
  • Guinea-Bissau 🇬🇼
  • Kenya 🇰🇪
  • Kosovo 🇽🇰
  • Malta 🇲🇹
  • Oman 🇴🇲
  • Pakistan 🇵🇰
  • Phillipines 🇵🇭
  • Seychelles 🇸🇨

Trailblazers one and all (though you’ll have to find out *who* those players are under your own steam, and there’s no points for getting Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Victor Wanyama without Googling of course, not around here).

Some sports however are dominated by just a handful of nations. This usually emerges where history meets slightly complicated rules or requirements. It’s harder after all to gather the various accoutrements needed for a good game of snooker (“What do you mean you haven’t got a spider Derek?!”) than it is to find a field to run around in.

Below is an exploration of those sports with limited range to see if we can find a comprehensive answer to the following questions: “If I only have space for ONE scarf  supporting one nation team and designed clearly for use while cheering on one sport, then what will give me the most value in terms of consistently being on the winning side”

Or, to put it another way: is there any country that completely and utterly dominates one sport?

  • Rugby? Cricket? Obviously neither, but I’ve gone hardcore on the workings anyway.
  • American sports? Not really, I mean three of them have been Olympic Sports, but I’ve added some colour.
  • British sports? You know, ones that don’t involve breaking a sweat. Bit closer, but not that close.
  • Other sports that actually answer the question? Yes. These indeed answer the question (so you may as well just scroll through to the end, unless you want to see A LOT of flag emoji).

Ready? *Whistle sound effect*

*****

The Empire Games

Let’s start with two high-profile sports for those of us born into a world reported by the BBC and characterised by a physical inability to jump a queue. With their first internationals taking place in 1871 and 1844 respectively Rugby Union (we’ll get to Rugby League in the detail) and Cricket are sports steeped in history. History that relies on what we’ll call the ‘ups and downs’ of the British Empire as it swept across the world doing unspeakable things, growing tea and finding countries to be much better at sports than the people who invented them, but history nonetheless.

Rugby 🏉

We’ll kick off (pun very much intended) with Rugby Union because it’s where rugby started (on that note the story about William Webb-Ellis picking the ball in a game of football at Rugby school and inventing the game is hardly cast iron – it always struck me as a weird origin story anyway), but that hasn’t stopped the World Cup in the sport being named after him. But before we get to the World Cup breakdown, let’s explore the dual axes of power in the world of scrums and gum shields…

The Six Nations: England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿, Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿, Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿, Ireland 🇮🇪(technical flag inaccuracy, but, emoji), France 🇫🇷and, the upgrade from the long standing Five Nations, Italy 🇮🇹.

The Rugby Championship (formerly the Tri Nations who, of course, spent many years as the most pun worthy major sporting event on the planet): Australia 🇦🇺, New Zealand 🇳🇿, South Africa 🇿🇦, Argentina 🇦🇷.

There are in this elite group a total of 10 teams, nine of whom – sorry Italy – are (a few caveats aside) the teams perennially in the mix. They are joined, to some extent, by the Pacific Island nations of Fiji 🇫🇯, Samoa 🇼🇸 and Tonga 🇹🇴, and indeed between these 12 teams (i.e. The Six Nations minus Italy plus The Rugby Championship plus The Pacific Islands) they have filled all but one of the 64 berths that have been available in the QFs of the Rugby World Cup since it’s inception (the other place went to Canada way back in 1991).

At the sharp end however, not even all of these nations have every really had a serious chance of winning the Webb Ellis Trophy with eight of these teams making up all semi-final appearances and just five of them – New Zealand 🇳🇿, Australia 🇦🇺, England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿, South Africa 🇿🇦 and France 🇫🇷 – taking up 27 out of 32 of those berths and contesting all finals. Even a casual fan is aware that few teams have a realistic opportunity to take on 15 New Zealanders with egg-shaped ball in hand.

That all said, there is one area of Rugby that isn’t Kiwi heaven (well, not exclusively, they’re still incredibly successful) and that’s Rugby Sevens. In the short form, sped up version many of the games experts hail from the Pacific Islands . Fiji 🇫🇯won their first ever Olympic medal as a nation when Rugby Sevens was admitted to the 2016 event in Rio roundly beating all opposition. Historically Fiji and New Zealand battle it out at the top of the Sevens tree, but England, South Africa, Samoa and, in a positive blip to be fair, Wales have taken top honours in major tournaments. There is also the notable addition of Kenya 🇰🇪in the Sevens game scrapping around making life difficult for the bigger teams. But that’s it, aside from the usual suspects.

A final word then on all things Rugby Union can be reserved for Georgia 🇬🇪and Japan 🇯🇵, two teams on the up. This year’s World Cup is in Japan, who are if not knocking on the door of the ‘big 9’, certainly making good strides across the front garden. The same can be said about Georgia. Indeed, their world ranking is well above Italy’s at the time of writing and has been for a while. To some that would make a fair shout for their inclusion in the Six Nations ahead of the Italians and maybe, just maybe, things will continue to the point where the Six Nations needs to offer a relegation/promotion system for last place (Spain, Russia and Romania would be other contenders seeking that spot over the long haul). Meanwhile Japan have had their own team, the Sunwolves, in the Super Rugby competition (featuring teams from the Rugby Championship countries) since 2016, a sure step forward for a country that defeated South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World cup and will hope to show the world they can compete at the top end consistently as they host the good and great to knock-on simple balls and get covered in mud.

BUT HOLD ON… WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN?!

An excellent point and one we shouldn’t overlook, not least because we’re not sexist dinosaurs, but also because the likelihood of finding intense domination by one country in a sport is statistically more likely in women’s tournaments given their relative youth. Woke and wily. Check it.

The Women’s Rugby World Cup has been dominated over the years by two teams, New Zealand 🇳🇿 (who have won five of the eight editions), and England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 who have made all but one final, though only won twice. The first winner, back in 1991 was the USA 🇺🇸 – a newbie on the scene for this article – with Canada 🇨🇦and France 🇫🇷(who have come 3rd six times!) also showing well.

Proving however that what the men do, doesn’t always follow when it comes to the women, we must give a nod to the Kazakhstan 🇰🇿 team who have attended the World Cup on 6 occasions, just missing making the QFs each time.

AND YOU SAID WE’D TALK ABOUT RUGBY LEAGUE WHAT ABOUT RUGBY LEAGUE?

Yes. We’re doing that now. Chill.

Rugby League originated in 1895 as the ‘professional’ code of rugby meaning, quite simply, that players could be paid. It took until August 1995 for Rugby Union to follow suit. League is particularly popular in the North of England (where it was founded), parts of Australia 🇦🇺, New Zealand 🇳🇿and France 🇫🇷and also in Lebanon 🇱🇧. Rugby League is the national sport, nonetheless, of Papua New Guinea 🇵🇬. It’s also played in pockets of all the usual countries mentioned above.

At World Cup level three teams have won the championship since it started in 1954 and on all but four occasions the winner has been Australia 🇦🇺. In 2008 New Zealand 🇳🇿took the title and on three occasions prior to 1972 Great Britain 🇬🇧took the honours (since 2005 the home nations – England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland – have competed separately with Great Britain as a team retired in 2008 with the hope if improving the results of the individual nations. GB will return for a tour of the Southern Hemisphere in 2019 however after several years of reform rumours. Think of them like a 90s boyband).

So with the exception of PNG 🇵🇬and the brilliantly exotic Lebanon 🇱🇧we’re looking at the same simple, but still a little bloated for my liking, list of countries. There’s domination, but it’s not all conquering.

In the Women’s tournament, which has been held since 2000, we again see dominance from New Zealand 🇳🇿, so much so that they’ve featured in every final winning three and losing three. Which is weird, since there’s only been five. In 2005 two teams from New Zealand were entered; ‘New Zealand’, and ‘New Zealand Maori’, with the former trotting out 58-0 winners. Added extras who’ve not made the word count yet keep us in the deep Pacific: The Cook Islands 🇨🇰, Niue 🇳🇺and Tokelau 🇹🇰.

But really now, with 1200 words on Rugby alone, we must move on…

Cricket 🏏

There are twelve test playing cricket nations. Which means, essentially, that there are twelve ‘proper’ places were they play cricket. Twelve isn’t many. They are, in order of their gaining test status: England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿(1877), Australia 🇦🇺(1877), South Africa 🇿🇦 (1889), West Indies 🏝(1928), New Zealand 🇳🇿(1930), India 🇮🇳(1932), Pakistan 🇵🇰(1952), Sri Lanka 🇱🇰(1982), Zimbabwe 🇿🇼 (1992), Bangladesh 🇧🇩(2000), Ireland 🇮🇪(2018) and Afghanistan 🇦🇫(2018). Which is also to say that until the 21st Century only nine countries were allowed to play ‘proper’ cricket.

Test cricket however is not the only cricket. It’s simply hardcore cricket, and there is of course a version for people who just want to have fun (i.e. ‘lightweights’). The ICC Cricket World Cup is therefore instead based on the One Day International format of the sport. 20 teams have competed since it was first held in 1975. The extras are…

  • Bermuda 🇧🇲
  • Canada 🇨🇦
  • East Africa 🏳
  • Kenya 🇰🇪
  • Namibia 🇳🇦
  • Netherlands 🇳🇱
  • Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿
  • UAE 🇦🇪

These 20 however are not the only 20. There are a total of 105 countries where cricket is well established enough to have a membership body of some sort (12 test nations plus 93 associate members). Of these countries five have managed to win the World Cup (25% of those who’ve competed, just under 5% of the total). For comparison 8 out of 79 teams have won the FIFA World Cup from a total pool of 211 eligible teams (10% and around 4%). Which is interesting in as much as the figures aren’t *that* different.

So is cricket the over-localised sport we’re here to salivate over? Kinda. But we can do better.

But before we move on, a final bit of cricket/country based knowledge for you. Above we mentioned that the first international in the sport took place in 1844. Who was it between? Canada 🇨🇦and the USA 🇺🇸. The first mentions of one of those nations in this section. Oh the irony (and thus, so deliciously English).

The women’s World Cup, in a notable parallel with what we saw in Rugby above features similar teams with a bit more dominance. Of the 11 tournaments so far, 10/11 have been won by either England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿or Australia 🇦🇺. In 2000 New Zealand took home the trophy. Until then they’d been 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd. More recently things have been shaken up a little by India, South Africa and the West Indies, but it’s hardly a confusing slate of cricketing nations.

Dominance indeed, but it’s not quite perfect so we must move on…

* * * *

American Athletes

The great/weird (depending on your outlook) thing about American sports is that while they are insanely popular across the 50 states, they are, to a greater and lesser extent, often ignored elsewhere. This is less true of Ice Hockey which is hugely popular in Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and Central Europe, while Basketball can claim popularity on a casual and less casual basis in many countries, if not powerhouse leagues worth all the 💰💰💰. And while baseball has its World Series (we’ll get to that) it’s played in even fewer places than its long distant cousin cricket. As for American Football? The clue’s in the name.

Baseball ⚾️

Baseball’s premier competition is, of course, The World Series a competition played between Major League Baseball teams from the USA (plus the Blue Jays, from Toronto). In fact, it’s all about the USA (apart from the Blue Jays and the Montreal Expos who upped and moved to Washington in 2005 to be closer to everyone else). So why’s it called the World Series? Well, in 1903 the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates – winners of National League – wrote to the owner of the Boston Red Sox – winners of the American League – to suggest a ‘World’s Championship Series’. And the name stuck. And why are there two leagues in Major League Baseball? Let’s worry about that another time.

But despite being played almost exclusively in just 18 US States plus  Ontario, Canada (great stat for you there) 27% of Major League Baseball players are foreign born. So is there an appetite out in the rest of the world?

Sort of.

Since its founding in 2006 20x teams have taken part in the World Baseball Classic, the real ‘world championships’ of the game. In addition, baseball featured at the 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics and will return in 2020 in Tokyo. The Olympics featured eight teams on each occasion. In terms of success it’s the Cubans 🇨🇺(3 Olympic golds and two silvers) who were dominant on the world stage, while Japan 🇯🇵 (2 World Classics for the men, 6 for the women), Puerto Rico 🇵🇷, Dominican Republic 🇩🇴, Australia 🇦🇺and South Korea 🇰🇷 are a bit handy too. Surprisingly, or not really, the USA 🇺🇸have only featured intermittently on this world stage, but of course that’s because the best players are paid far too much to drag themselves off to represent their country against Venezuela 🇻🇪or the Netherlands 🇳🇱for a mere metal necklace.

So while it’s basically all American, this is not the dominance we’re after.

Basketball 🏀

Basketball is the most globally popular of the American sports. It has been an Olympic sport since 1936 (and was a demonstration sport in 1904) and 16 different countries have medalled at the FIBA World Cup in the men’s event, with 17 medalling in the women’s. Although, to rewind a moment, the USA have medalled at every Olympics except 1980, when the whole US team boycotted, and have won Gold in all but three of the men’s tournaments and all but two of the women’s. So that’s pretty dominant. But given the existence of professional basketball leagues and teams in Spain 🇪🇸, Germany 🇩🇪, Italy 🇮🇹, Russia 🇷🇺, Turkey 🇹🇷, France🇫🇷, Lithuania 🇱🇹, Greece 🇬🇷, Australia🇦🇺 and China 🇨🇳 it’s fair to say it’s not a one nation sport. And while you might get pretty excellent value from your Team USA scarf, we’re going to keep going.

Ice Hockey 🏒

Ice Hockey isn’t played everywhere because it needs ice and the equator laughs in the face of ice. But we’re back in Rugby and Cricket territory here really with a handful of usual suspects (Canada 🇨🇦, USA 🇺🇸, Russia 🇷🇺, Sweden 🇸🇪, Finland 🇫🇮, Czech Republic 🇨🇿 – in that order) taking the vast majority of place on the Olympic podium and World Championships medal table for both men and women (with notable additions for Switzerland 🇨🇭, Slovakia 🇸🇰 and the German 🇩🇪 men’s team’s Olympic Odyssey in 2018).

So no (d)ice here.

American Football 🏈

The Americans LOVE  their version of football.

Most of the biggest stadiums on the planet were built with a gridiron on the pitch (and the very biggest are not for professional teams but for College teams, eight in total with a capacity of over 100,000 – when I was at University there was one football pitch and that was often used to store random outdoor furniture). But does anyone else? Well, kinda yeah, kinda no.

Japan 🇯🇵have won 2x IFAF World Cups (1999 and 2003 when the US didn’t take part) and picked up a podium place in every tournament since. Not many countries can muster a national team, but the 2015 version did attract European frontrunners Germany 🇩🇪, Austria 🇦🇹, Sweden 🇸🇪 and France 🇫🇷 as well as the US 🇺🇸, Canada 🇨🇦, Mexico 🇲🇽 (who are a bit handy), Brazil 🇧🇷, South Korea 🇰🇷, Japan 🇯🇵, Australia 🇦🇺 and Morocco 🇲🇦 (qualification happened by region as you can probably tell).

Nobody comes close to the USA for strength or, indeed, popularity. The overwhelming majority of players at the top of the game are American and the top teams are all fighting it out in the NFL. But like baseball and basketball the dominance kind of works against them as they don’t always bother to properly turn up to beat the rest of the world as it’s not really the point.

So don’t go knitting that USA scarf quite yet…

Other Footballs

But hold on, what about other footballs? It goes to follow that if you name a brand of football after yourself and make sure it doesn’t get too popular, then nobody else is going to play it.

  • Gaelic football is very Irish 🇮🇪(and one of the world’s few staunchly amateur sports). Australian Rules football is very Australian 🇦🇺(and only played professionally in Australia). BUT, the two can be combined under a code known as International or Compromise Rules when the top Gaelic teams play the top Australian teams. And so, by definition, the purity of the game in one nation is sullied. But oh so close. This dual-axis is further cemented by the Papua New Guinea, Irish, New Zealand dominance of the Australian Football International Cup
  • Canadian football is very Canadian 🇨🇦, though the top competition, the Grey Cup, was once won by the Baltimore Stallions who were involved during a brief American expansion during the 90s. So we’re very very close again, but not quite. And there isn’t an international competition anyway.

Onward…

The Best of British

Snooker 

The World Snooker Championship has been held 84 times. In that time it has been won on 4 occasions by non-Brits: an Irishman 🇮🇪, a Canadian 🇨🇦 and two Australians 🇦🇺. New Zealand 🇳🇿, South Africa 🇿🇦 and, in a buck from British Colonialism, China 🇨🇳 have also been represented in the final. The women’s game can add a champion for Hong Kong 🇭🇰 and an Indian 🇮🇳 finalist.

It’s as close as a ball hanging over the pocket, but it’s not quite going to drop.

Darts 

Since 1978, across both the BDO and PDC World Championships, the men’s title has been a good clutch of Dutch 🇳🇱, an Australian 🇦🇺, a couple of Canadians 🇨🇦 and A LOT of Brits. The women’s game has reached the powers of Russia 🇷🇺 and the USA 🇺🇸as well. But it’s mainly the St George’s cross flying.

No bull.

Bowls 

The World Indoor Bowls Championship has returned a Scottish 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿or English 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿winner in 69% of all championships (men’s, women’s, team) competed for since 1979. Of the rest, the majority have been won by the Welsh 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿, Northern Irish (emoji says 🙅‍♀️) or a few plucky souls from Guernsey, Australia 🇦🇺and New Zealand 🇳🇿sent the balance.

Close, but jack all here.

Onward. (and, at last, a straight answer).

The All-Conquering Heroes

There’s a good list of every single World Championships (and similar) in sport on Wikipedia and I’ve looked through it so you don’t have to.

Floorball is a perennial toss up between Sweden 🇸🇪and Finland 🇫🇮(though the Swiss women play their part), Ringette between Canada 🇨🇦and Finland 🇫🇮(what is it about the Finns, they LOVE an odd sport), Lacrosse by the USA 🇺🇸and Canada 🇨🇦, Padel between Argentina 🇦🇷and Spain 🇪🇸, Bandy between Sweden 🇸🇪and Russia 🇷🇺. And while Brazil 🇧🇷dominate at Beach Soccer, Australia 🇦🇺netball, the Dutch 🇳🇱the long track and the South Koreans 🇰🇷the short track in speed skating, Polo is the domain of the South American trio of Brazil 🇧🇷, Chile 🇨🇱and Argentina 🇦🇷and plenty more besides… in each of these others always get a look in.

Below are the sports in which the world champions have only ever come from one nation and so are vying for that single scarf berth.

  • Kabaddi, India 🇮🇳have won every single World Cup in both the Standard and Circle style. That’s 13x victories across men’s and women’s competitions. CLEAN SWEEP.
  • Indoor Lacrosse can go one better though with the same winner, runner-up and bronze medallist in each of the four global competitions held so far: Canada 🇨🇦🥇, Iriquois 🥈, USA 🥉.
  • Tchoukball, For the women, a victory: every single world tournament has been won by the Chinese women 🇨🇳, and all bar two by the Chinese men. (the 1970 and 2004 World Tchoukball championships were won by the French 🇫🇷and the Swiss 🇨🇭respectively).

And that’s it.

So take your pick. But as well as your one and only scarf, you’re probably going to need a rule book (although, fun fact, we used to do Kabaddi in PE lessons at my school in Glasgow which is very much not in India, so you never know where there could be potential future shoots of growth).

/end.

CONIFA etc

Last year, just before all that football stuff kicked off in Russia, I wandered from my home in South East London to Hayes Lane, the home of Bromley Town F.C. There, after purchasing a reasonably priced pint of beer and taking my seat in a spartan stand behind a new born baby and a man still wearing his cycling helmet I watched Cascadia (a region of the Pacific Northwest) take on Western Armenia (a region of Turkey) in the CONIFA World Cup. The game was entertaining for many reasons: It was end to end, it had four goals (all to Cascadia), and it was soundtracked by the father of one of the Cascadia players whose general anger at decisions made during that 90 minutes would rival anything Alex Jones is capable of. It was wonderful.

I’d long yearned to attend a CONIFA game, and here I was, on a Tuesday afternoon leaving my pregnant wife at home to do the hoovering, watching one. All my Christmases and all that.

Actually, that’s not strictly true as CONIFA was only founded in 2013.

I’d long yearned to attend a competitive fixture organised by the N.F. Board, a predecessor of CONIFA since I’d worked with a chap in a small office above a Ladbrokes in North London. The days were slow but filled with joy. We’d listen to Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show and marvel, ponder the life stories of the people passing on the busy street below and spend hours eking out increasingly esoteric facts about, well, anything. But often, about football. And not a week would pass without a wistful and yearning conversation about the romance of the N.F. Board, now CONIFA.

CONIFA, if it wasn’t already clear, operates as an alternative to FIFA. They put together competitive football fixtures for regions, areas and islands not officially recognised as countries (in most cases), and therefore not recognised by the official body of the sport. All told, they give an opportunity for glory for those who don’t subscribe to accepted geography. Heroes one and all.

* * * * *

CONIFA is, as these things so often seem to be, headquartered in Sweden and currently represents 54 different teams from all corners of the globe. Five of these teams also have a women’s team which is to be applauded.

At this point on Citius, Altius, Nerdius, I’d normally list the nations for you complete with icons of their flags rendered in emoji. But these nations not being the kind of nations that are recognised by anyone much, let alone the good people who make the emoji, I can’t do that. Instead, here is a snapshot of the CONIFA rankings – yes, of COURSE they have rankings – as at October 2018:

Here’s the top 40 rankings, and here’s the full list of members (flags and all).

Wikipedia also gives us a great breakdown of the qualifying criteria for members that I’ve brazenly reposted here for those of you too engrossed to click the links above:

CONIFA expressly uses the term “members” rather than “countries” or “states”. A football association may be eligible to apply for membership of CONIFA if it, or the entity (ethnic and/or linguistic minority, indigenous group, cultural organization, territory) it represents, is not a member of FIFA and satisfies one or more of the following criteria:

  • The Football Association is a member of one of the six continental confederations of FIFA, which are: AFC, CAF, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, OFC, UEFA
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a member of the International Olympic Committee
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a member of one of the member federations of Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations (ARISF)
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is in possession of an ISO 3166-1 country code.
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a de-facto independent territory. A territory is considered de facto independent if it meets all of the following criteria: (a) a well-defined territory; (b) a permanent population; (c) an autonomous government, and (d) diplomatic recognition by at least one of the Member States of the United Nations
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is included on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is included in the directory of countries and territories of the Traveler’s Century Club.
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a member of the UNPO and/or the FUEN
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a minority included in the World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, maintained and published by Minority Rights Group International
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a linguistic minority, the language of which is included on the List of ISO 639-2 codes

If you’ve read this far, you will now I imagine be suitably inspired to get lost in a CONIFA shaped rabbit hole that will fill you with joy and numerous browser tabs, and I encourage you to go deep. The history of non-FIFA related football is a wonderful one only made more wonderful through self discovery.

But I will leave you with one snippet…

When I went to Bromley, just beyond the borders of South East London to attend that match at the 2018 CONIFA World Cup, the event itself was not actually hosted by England or the UK. It wasn’t even hosted in Europe. It was hosted by CONIFA member Barawa, a region on Somalia. Not that the Barawa FA are based in Africa. They are based in London, officially representing the Somali diaspora in the city. And so, it was to Bromley (and Haringey, Carshalton, Enfield and beyond) that far flung football fans made their way to watch the beautiful game.

Perfect.

Merlene, Merlene, Merlene, Merleeeene (Ottey)

Merlene Ottey was an international sprinter.

Merlene Ottey excelled at 60m, 100m, 200m and as a key part of the 4x100m relay.

Merlene Ottey represented Jamaica and, latterly, Slovenia.

Merlene Ottey was INCREDIBLE

Merlene Ottey

* * * * *

🥉She won her first global medal  in 1980, winning Bronze in the 200m at the Moscow Olympics.
(She was 20.)

🥉She won her last global medal in 2003, winning Bronze in the 60m at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham.
(She was 43.)

👟She concluded her career anchoring Slovenia’s 4x100m to 6th in their heat (of 8)  at the 2012 European Championships.
(She was 52.)

🎽She competed in seven Olympic Games (Moscow, LA, Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens), more than any other track and field athlete.

🏆She’s the oldest female athletics individual medallist in the history of both the Olympics and the World Championships. She won Olympic Bronze in 2000 at the age of 40.

🇯🇲She’s been around long enough that she was the FIRST FEMALE CARIBBEAN ATHLETE TO WIN AN OLYMPIC MEDAL. She was still winning medals in 2000, an age of island dominance in the sprints. Quite remarkable.

But she didn’t just have insane longevity. She had real class too…

Ottey won medals at six of the seven Olympics she competed at. She came 4th in the 200m in Seoul, her only blot. She was a gnat’s eyelid from appearing in Beijing in 2008, but just missed out. For comparison, you have to be over 30 year olds to realistically remember seven Olympic Games. Plenty of athletes have retired around that age. 😲

  • She’s 4th on the all time 200m list
  • She’s 7th on the all time 100m list
  • She still holds the 200m indoor WR.
  • She ran under 11 seconds for 100m 67 times
  • She won over 20 medals at WCs and Olympics, a record shared only by Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix
  • She won 3o medals, in total, at Worlds, Olympics and World Indoors including 6 golds 🏅🏅🏅🏅🏅🏅

Merlene, Merlene, Merlene, Merleeeene… winning medals just because she can.

 

 

The Federation of InterBirthday Football Outifts (FIFO)

There are, depending on how you look at it, around 200 countries in the world:

  • 193 members of the UN
  • 206 sovereign states
  • 206 nations with National Olympic Committees
  • 211 members of FIFA

And it’s these nations that are used to splice up the world into the neat packets (politically questionable of course, but still) that make international competition possible.

It can’t have escaped your notice however, because it hasn’t escaped mine, that nations are not all born equal. Some are massive, some are tiny. Some have many people, some have not very many at all. Some have the perfect weather for schlepping around outside, some are devastatingly wet and windy.

It’s ultimately not fair. But then, what is?

Well, how about the overall distribution of birthdays? 🎂

Sure, there’s some shift throughout the year with September/October sitting a well positioned 9 months after Christmas and New Year frivolities but the overall the numbers are convincingly consistent (England/Wales data, US Data) for 363/366 potential birthdays at least. Only Feb 29th (obviously a special case), Christmas Day and Boxing Day exhibit notable drops from the mean.

And so what? So this…

What if FIFA, or the IOC or the IAAF or anyone else decided to run teams not based on citizenship but based on the day you were born? A truly international coming together of sisters and brothers who share birthdays rather than passports. Would it work? Who cares. Instead, let’s see which teams might perform well in a football tournament organised around this concept and spend some time elbow deep in spreadsheets. Of course, I’ve chosen football because it’s easy to get data on all professional footballer’s birthdays so we’ll leave it there for now and, as ever, I’m tired/my child needs rearing… (although, bonus info, Steve Redgrave, Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny AND Mo Farah four of the UK’s top 6 all-time Olympic medal winners were all born on March 23rd which is frankly BIZARRE and slightly unnerving and leads me to seriously consider whether lizards are in fact running the planet).

* * * * *

Having crunched the data very unscientifically and while trying to also eat a croissant, I have identified birthdates that might offer the spine of a successful team from the pool of current players presented to you here in a vague kind of seeding. I could have tried to eke out a full XI of course, but I really wanted to enjoy the croissant.

Team February 5th 🎂
I find it hard to believe that it is only in researching this weird idea that I have discovered the fact that Neymar and CR7 are candle-cake twins. But there you are. And, along with a couple of other names at either ends of their careers, they could well be brought together to argue about dead-ball duties in actual Portuguese.

Oh, and Sven-Göran Eriksson would qualify to take the helm in the dugout.

Team February 14th 🎂
Romantics will love the idea of seeing Kevin Keegan back on the World stage at the head of a team surely nicknamed ‘The Valentines’, not to mention Eriksen and Cavani providing some very lovely goals.

Kevin Keegan would be the man needing special tracksuits made.

Team January 8th 🎂
Strong through the midfield, but – like every other team here – totally devoid of any presence in net.

Manager TBC.

Team December 20th 🎂
A mix of youth, experience and a love of a fine pizza might just drag this team through the rounds making up for all those times they’ve been given a ‘joint’ birthday and Christmas present that’s barely the sum of its parts.

Manager TBC.

Team May 4th 🎂
Team ‘Star Wars’ have past and future star appeal but no actual war lords (as far as we know).

Manager TBC.

Team February 26th 🎂
Those who like players with one name and North London might be seduced by the boys running out for team 2/26. A solid line-up to fight through the rounds (which would be even more protracted than the multi-year FIFA qualification route presumably with 155 extra teams to deal with).

Ole Gunnar Solskjær would be shouting tactics.

Data from Transfermarkt.com

Do you need to represent a country to participate in the Olympics?

It’s the sort of of question that might cross your mind if you’ve just been turned down by your local NOC. Or if you’re looking for a loophole to line-up alongside elite athletes. Or if you just reckon none of the outfits on offer from the existing countries will properly suit your complexion. Well, you’re in luck. Because the short answer, is no, you don’t need to represent a country to participate in the Olympics.

The more full answer is ‘not really’, but you mostly have to represent a body of some sort whether that’s a country, a territory with its own NOC or another body created by the IOC (e.g. the Unified Team or the Refugee Olympic team). Each of which will come with their own uniform that may or may not suit your complexion.

The Indian hockey team at the 1936 Olympics. Excellent shirts.

There are of course ‘independent athletes’ that have competed when political situations beyond the control of the IOC have intervened (the break-up of Yugoslavia and the dissolution of the Netherland Antilles for example) but this is very rare and under the control of the IOC. It’s not a choice an athlete can simply make.

The long answer, with all the gory details, is below…

* * * * *

When is a country not a country…

At the Olympics you don’t technically compete for your country, but as a member of the team organised by your National Olympic Committee. Now, obviously, in any useful sense, these are one and the same. The French NOC picks French athletes to represent France so Francophiles can cheer them on. But sometimes those NOCs don’t actually represent countries, per se…

Some numbers…

  • Right now, as we embark on the Rio Games, there are 206 NOCs (though there were 207 teams at the Rio Games: all NOCs plus the Refugee Olympic Team)
  • There are only 193 member states of the UN
  • There are 211 member ‘countries’ of FIFA

As you can see above, the numbers show that the rules of what makes a ‘country’ according the International Olympic Committee (IOC) differ to those of the UN and FIFA (and other bodies, of course).

As has already been outlined, this is because a ‘country’ needs a National Olympic Committee (NOC) to compete at the Games.

  • All UN members have an NOC.
  • There are some NOCs that exist due to part recognition by the UN (Palestine, Kosovo, The Cook Islands and Taiwan – or Chinese Taipei as the IOC would have them).
  • There are also two candidate nations who could set up an NOC if they wanted, but haven’t yet done so (the Vatican City and Niue).
  • And there are nations that aren’t recognised by e.g. the UN or the IOC but compete at the Paralympics – part of the Olympics family (Faroe Islands and Macau).

Then there are fully fledged IOC member countries who wouldn’t be considered eligible for an NOC any more, but since they have one historically, they’re allowed in (the rule to only allow sovereign nations to apply for NOC status was passed in 1995). These are dependant territories of other nations. For example, Puerto Rico has an NOC, but is a dependant territory of the USA. There are nine of these.

Or to put it another way: If we use the UN as a definition, then all countries have NOCs, but not all NOCs represent countries. If you don’t want to use the UN definition, then it’s still true that NOCs don’t equal countries (unless your definition of a country is a territory with an NOC, obviously…)

*** Breathes… ***

To unpick this properly, let’s look at the specific case of an athlete from the Netherland Antilles, Churandy Martina, a very talented sprinter who made the final of the 100m and 200m at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. He was only matched in this feat by some Jamaican bloke called Bolt.

Churandy Martina was born in Curaçao, an island in the Caribbean and a former Dutch colony. Up until 2010, he competed as part of The Netherland Antilles, an NOC covering the former Dutch colonies in the Caribbean.

All the colonies except Aruba actually.

That was part of The Netherland Antilles, but got its own NOC in 1986 (the year of the Goodwill Games, Oprah’s debut on TV and Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’).

When the Netherland Antilles NOC was dissolved in 2010 (because the Netherlands Antilles itself was dissolved…) Churandy Martina – along with other former Netherlands Antilles athletes – had a choice to make when competing at the Olympics in London:

  • Compete as an independent athlete
  • Represent the Netherlands
  • Represent Aruba.

He chose to represent the Netherlands.

In this case, he clearly, under any reasonable definition, represented a country.

But he could have chosen to go as an independent, and thus represent just himself, as three athletes from Curaçao did indeed decide to do.

Or he could have represented Aruba. Which is a dependent country as part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And not a ‘sovereign’ state, or member of the UN. Or even the country or territory Churandy Martina was born in.

So there are your options. Under certain circumstances you can:

  • Represent a country of the UN, as all have NOCs
  • Represent a territory that might not be part of the UN, but has an NOC for historic reasons
  • Represent yourself under the Olympic flag as an independent athlete (but only with the express invitation to do so from the IOC)

Some other points…

There are other ways that athletes have competed at the Olympics and not represented a country.

  • Teams flying the Olympic flag have competed at recent Games, including the Unified Team (EUN) in the Summer and Winter Games of 1992 following the break-up of the Soviet Union and, of course, the Refugee team that competed at Rio 2016.
  • Independent athletes have competed during times of political change in the former Yugoslavia, East Timor and the Netherland Antilles.
  • This kind of political change has of course retrospectively led to athletes having represented countries/NOCs that no longer exist (e.g. East Germany, Serbia & Montenegro, Czechoslovakia and others).
  • One athlete from India, Shiva Keshavan, competed at the 2014 Sochi games as an independent while India were suspended from the IOC for corruption, similarly the Kuwaiti team competed as independents at Rio 2016 while Kuwait were suspended winning one gold and one bronze in the process. Note, Russian athletes – where they were able to compete – still competed for Russia at Rio 2016 (e.g. Darya Klishina the only Russian to compete in athletics)
  • In early Olympics, there were also ‘mixed teams’ that took part: ‘Denmark & Sweden’, ‘USA & Cuba’ and the rather odd ‘Great Britain & Bohemia’ which are obviously country like, but not technically countries. Athletes competing in these groupings won a total of 17 medals in the 1896, 1900 and 1904 Games.

 

(First posted on Quora)

That’s not the answer. It’s not even close.

At every Summer Olympic Games (well, except St Louis in 1904 – a lot of stuff was different at St Louis), there are a few – and often a lot – of events that take part away from the host city.

Usually this is for practical reasons (like sailing, you gotta have that water for that sailing or people WILL GET HURT), or to make use of better existing facilities (riding, rowing, canoeing and shooting often fall into this trap – that’s a shooting joke of course). Sometimes though, it’s simply to spread Olympic joy further around the host country. This is mostly done with football during recent Games. A total of 57 cities in all have hosted Olympic football, some many hundreds of miles from the heart of the games.

In total, having undertaken a digital wandering across the planet (well, the part of it they’re willing to host the Olympics in anyway), I’ve found 117 different towns/cities/locations that have played host to official Summer Olympic events away from the host city itself.

Of course, working out what is and isn’t in the host city isn’t an exact science (LA and Tokyo are especially fiddly blobs of never-ending cityscape), but I’ve tried to only include places that are not obviously in the host city or its outer limits. Or at least places where it would be stretching it, and a bit annoying, to tell people you lived in a host city if, for example, you actually lived in Aldershot (location of equestrian and modern pentathlon during London 1948). 

In smaller countries, and for smaller cities those places creep closer than they do for the aforementioned London, LA, or Tokyo. I’ve tried to stay consistent, I may have failed dismally. But hey, I’ve tried.  

As an aside, I missed out additional locations that were taken in only during meandering cycling events and the marathon unless the entire race took place away from the host city.

* * * * *

SOME NUMBERS

The 117 locations break down as:

  • 13 sailing locations
  • 57 football venues
  • 47 locations for all other events.

On the map (linked below, I will make you read to the end to find it), the sailing and football venues are separated out on different layers. Football because there are so many of them, and the approach is explicitly to move the event around. Sailing because some cities can’t really help not being by the sea. The rest, are a brilliant mix of random. 

SOME EXTRA INFO

If you’re the kind of person that’s reading this website entirely of your own volition, then you’ll probably appreciate this kind of extra info. It’s the kind of detail that marks an Olympic nerd from an Olympic geek. And let’s face it, if you’re enjoying this you’re both…

There are Olympic host cities over the years that have played host to events in years other than the year in which they were the host. I haven’t detailed these on the map because that’s not what the map is for (though I have included all host cities for reference), but for completeness, the locations in this category are:

  • Melbourne: host to football during Sydney’s 2000 games
  • Amsterdam: host to sailing during the Antwerp 1920 games
  • And, maybe most well known… the equestrian events for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 that took place in Stockholm due to quarantine regulations in Australia.

EXTRA EXTRA INFO

  • St Louis is the only Summer games to take place entirely in the host city (this was helped dramatically by not having any sailing events)
  • Brussels, Belgium; Augsburg, Germany & Athens GA, USA played host to three separate events when posing as Olympic venues, which is frankly greedy. Several other locations hosted two events (usually canoeing and rowing, or shooting/equestrian along with Modern Pentathlon)
  • Tallinn in Estonia hosted the sailing for the Moscow 1980 games while Minsk (Belarus) and Kiev (Ukraine) hosted football matches. While all were part of the mighty USSR during 1980 they now exist in countries that are not Russia. This means Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine have hosted an Olympic event but the games have never actually been held in their country.  
  • Karuizawa, Japan hosted the equestrian events during the Tokyo Olympics. While this was great for the horse lovers of the area, it was more great for the townsfolk decades later when it also hosted the curling events during the Nagano winter games. That makes Karuizawa the only city to host both a winter and summer olympic event. Cold horses and toasty curling stones are presumably on all postcards in the area. Karuizawa will sadly lose their unique record in 2022 when Beijing will host the winter games 14 years after hosting the Summer games. 

THE MAP

OK, time to get stuck in. You can see the map here…

Click on each location to get a short run-down of what happened at each outpost (and in some cases, marvel at which host city it was involved with).

The non-existent line between victory and defeat

Sometimes, despite their best efforts, it’s impossible to separate athletes. Not those in love, or fighting over who can get a selfie with Hero the Hedgehog, of course but those, who, having competed over many meters / moments / games / goes find themselves not gloriously fist pumping, nor sat on their haunches, hands on muzzle but instead tied in a dead heat having matched each other in every way possible (or at least every way measured, I’m not suggesting they ended up competing in the same sort and size of socks).

Wikipedia has a great list of every time this has happened at the sharp end of the Olympics, so we’ll concern ourselves with that for now. Should time/data/my infant son’s constant desire for attention allow, I’ll append a whole slew of examples from World and Area Championships large and small one day. But not today. Today we’re ripping directly from Wikipedia.

In total, 114 Summer events and 29 Winter events have produced a tie for medals. In some cases those events have offered up more than one tie (i.e. a tie for Gold and a tie for Bronze). In some cases those ties have been between MORE THAN TWO PEOPLE. These times are wonderful times (and a lot of them are, of course, actually heights and points ).

Gymnasts at the 1908 Olympics, all equally entertaining

* * * * *

Some STACTS (stat/facts):

  • The majority of the ties come from the same events in gymnastics, speed skating, athletics
  • There is little consistency in how ties have been dealt with over the years. The classic solution is to forgo Silver, for example, if there’s a dead heat for Gold. But in 1912, for example, they just kept handing ’em out down the line because those Swedes are just good eggs.
  • There are events where two Bronzes are always offered, most notably boxing where there’s no 3/4th place play off. Over the years Water Polo, Polo, Rowing, Badminton and Table Tennis have popped up with this plan as a one off, while Tennis has done it a couple of times and Judo (since ’72), Taekwondo and Wrestling (both since ’08) are doing it right now. These are not included in any of this info.
  • The 1932 LA Olympics were the only Summer Olympics not to see a tie. They’ve been seen in most Winter Olympics too.
  • One might imagine the Long Jump, for example, would yield tied marks, but none appear on the list. That’s because Long Jump is an example of an event with a method for separating equal distances, specifically by referring to the jumpers’ second best mark. As such it’s judged events, like gymnastics, or any form of racing that has no recourse to separate the competitors short of resorting to scissors, paper, stone (they may as well, it’s no worse than a penalty shoot-out).

So that all said, and two-way-ties aside (you can check them out in the list), here are the unlikeliest of unlikelihoods at the pinnacle of Olympic competition…

Triples Ties

There have been 19 instances of ‘triple’ ties in Olympic history. These are they:

  • London, 1908: Men’s high jump (three athletes stuck on 1.88m – a long time before Dick Fosbury )
  • London, 1908: Men’s pole vault (a double dead heat, see more below)
  • Stockholm, 1912: Men’s pole vault (another double dead heat, see more below)
  • London, 1948: Men’s Pommel Horse (three Finns all sharing Gold! 🇫🇮🇫🇮🇫🇮)
  • London, 1948: Men’s Vault (triple Bronze handed out)
  • Melbourne, 1956: Men’s Floor (triple Silver 🤸‍♂️)
  • Tokyo, 1964L: Men’s Individual All Around (Silver all-around)
  • Moscow, 1980: Women’s uneven bars (one, two, three Bronze)
  • LA, 1984: Mens’ Vault (and incredible FOUR WAY TIE! “There’s more silver here than in the state of  Colorado” – watch the action unfold below 🥈🥈🥈🥈)
  • Seoul, 1988: Men’s Pommel Horse (Bulgaria, Hungary and the Soviet Union all took home Gold)
  • Barcelona, 1992: Men’s High Jump (triple Bronze handed out)
  • Barcelona, 1992: Men’s Parallel Bars (triple Bronze handed out)
  • Barcelona, 1992: Women’s Floor (triple Bronze handed out)
  • Atlanta, 1996: Men’s Horizontal Bars (triple Bronze handed out)
  • London, 2012: Men’s High Jump (triple Bronze handed out) 
  • Rio 2016: Men’s 100m Butterfly (three silvers in a magnificent race… see it below 🏊‍♂️🏊‍♂️🏊‍♂️)
  • St Moritz, 1928: Men’s 500m Speed Skating (a double dead heat, see more below)
  • St Moritz, 1948: Men’s 500m Speed Skating (all the silvers)
  • 1964, men’s 500m Speed Skating (all the silvers)
  • 1968, women’s 500m Speed Skating (all the silvers)

Presumably if there’d been a 500m Speed Skating event at Barcelona in 1992 the entire final would have been a dead heat.

Double Dead Heats

The double dead-heat has happened five times in the history of Olympic competition. Almost exclusively in a year with an ‘8’ in it (for reasons that are, obviously, entirely coincidental).

  • London, 1908: Men’s Pole Vault (2 Gold 🥇, 3 Bronze🥉)
  • Stockholm 1912: Men’s Pole Vault (2 Silver 🥈, 3 Bronze🥉)
  • St Moritz: 1928 Men’s 500m speed skating (2 Gold 🥇, 3 Bronze🥉)
  • Moscow 1980 Women’s Floor (2 Gold 🥇, 2 Bronze🥉)
  • Seoul, 1988: Men’s Horizontal Bars (2 Gold 🥇, 2 Bronze🥉)

In the case of the 1912 Pole vault competition, six medals in total were awarded: 1 Gold, 2 Silver, 3 Bronze which, by my vague and wanting calculations, makes this the most over-awarded awarded event in Olympic history with 100% more medals awarded than were expected. It’s not, of course, the event with the most medals handed out which would be the football (3x 11 medals) for current events, or Rugby Union (held in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924) for those no longer on the roster. Thought we’d better clear that up because, well, nerdius.

As an aside while we’re on the point of ‘extra medals’, the IOC do of course create more medals than are needed when they mint the awards for each edition (46 extra for the Sochi games for example) so these can be handed out in the event of ties, or someone losing them, or defects. Should re-allocation happen however, as in the case below, it’s not always the case that the same medal handed to the drugs cheats finds its way to the rightful owners (the linked article suggests only 3 of 24 medals awarded to compromised Russians have been handed back willingly – do anything to win, right? 💉💉💉)

Re-awarding

There is an odd case from the 2000 Sydney Olympics to act as a coda here.

In the women’s 100m, two athletes have been awarded the Silver medal, but NOBODY the Gold. On the day itself US athlete Marion Jones crossed the finish line first propelled, as it was later determined – and she admitted – by veins pumped with drugs. Instead of second placed Katerina Thanou being upgraded to silver however she remains somewhat in limbo in that place, joined by Tanya Lawrence of Jamaica who the IOC upgraded, while the great Merlene Ottey now stands as the Bronze medallist 20 years after winning 200m Bronze in Moscow.

The reason for this oddity? Thanou was herself banned for missing a routine drug test at the 2004 Olympics and the IOC have stated, quite simply “Upgrading is not automatic. Every potential upgraded athlete will be scrutinised. We have to be absolutely sure that they are clean.”

But for now, there’s two awarded Silvers in the world, but no Gold. There are many fine lines between victory and defeat.

Jumping, jumping

You know when you’re watching a long jump competition and you think to yourself ‘geez, I wonder who has jumped furthest CUMULATIVELY in this competition’? If you don’t know that feeling I recommend you move on now. This is about to go downhill fast for you.

Looooong jumping
In a standard long jump competition, as in any athletic throw or jump, the only thing that matters is the highest/furthest/bestest performance of all of your attempts. You can nail it in one and sit out the rest of the competition playing Super Mario Kart if you like, or you can keep committing yourself to improving round by round and respect the work put in by your coach and the fact your mum’s missing bingo to come and watch you perform. It’s something your sprint hurdler or marathon runner just can’t opt for. Their performances reward consistency over the course of the race, not just a magic moment. What if long jumping were the same?

What follows is a table put together through pain-staking research (well, slightly-uncomfortable research, I hit the big competitions and some other stuff that stood out, not everything. I’m committed, but not insane). The table outlines performances by the world’s leading long jumpers ranked as if all six of their series jumps counted to their final mark.

When you look at it in detail you’ll notice three things:

  1. It’s fairly rare for a jumper to average 8m+ during a single event (essentially because one foul is going to scupper that chance)
  2. Carl Lewis was even more ridiculous than you already thought he was
  3. At the 2017 World Championships two men jumped an 8+ average for the first time (in my data set), with Jarrion Lawson becoming the first man to clear 50m cumulative at any championships. He only left with silver.
  4. There is very little real value to this information

 


The Table

EventAthlete123456TotalAverage
Sestriere 1994Carl Lewis8.688.438.668.608.518.7251.68.600
Walnut, CA 1987Carl Lewis8.648.668.638.778.668.0651.428.570
Indianapolis 1987Carl Lewis6.898.758.538.758.688.6850.288.380
2017 WCJarrion Lawson8.378.438.408.118.318.4450.068.343
1997 WCErick Walder8.298.158.298.368.308.3849.778.295
2006 World IndoorsIrving Saladino8.188.198.278.158.208.2949.288.213
Rio 2016Greg Rutherford8.188.118.228.268.098.2949.158.192
2004 World IndoorsBogdan Taurs8.038.188.238.258.268.1949.148.190
Athens 2004John Moffitt8.108.287.858.198.478.2449.138.188
Rio 2016Jeff Henderson8.207.948.107.968.228.3848.88.133
1987 World IndoorsLarry Myricks8.008.188.158.068.108.2348.728.120
2007 WCGodfrey Khotso Mokoena7.987.868.198.188.158.1948.558.092
Athens 2004Chris Tomlinson8.258.048.118.098.057.9248.468.077
2011 WCSebastian Bayer8.178.068.138.047.918.0248.338.055
2005 WCIrving Saladino8.007.918.068.008.208.1248.298.048
Beijing 2008Ibrahim Camejo7.948.098.087.887.938.2048.128.020
1995 World IndoorsErick Walder7.958.057.958.028.008.1448.118.018
2001 WCKareem Streete-Thompson7.748.098.088.038.108.0448.088.013
2017 WCJianan Wang8.148.237.958.007.857.8948.068.005
Sydney 2000Peter Burge7.808.067.937.968.158.1148.018.002
2003 WCIgnisious Gaisah8.038.137.908.117.957.88488.000
Tokyo 1991Carl Lewis8.68-8.838.918.878.8444.137.355
1987 WCCarl Lewis8.678.658.678.43-8.6043.027.170
Seoul 1988Carl Lewis8.418.568.528.728.52-42.737.122

Carl Lewis takes the top three and bottom three places in this table.

The top three are for epic performances that saw him clear 50m cumulative for his series of jumps. The only person (I can find at least, and I’m the only person whose likely looked) to have ever done this.

The bottom three places I’ve included simply to show how incredible Lewis was as a long jumper. These performances don’t hit the magic 8m average that everyone else was required to hit for inclusion in this table, but then Carl Lewis doesn’t fit neatly into any set of rules.

Those three bottom series aside from one, lonely foul, were impeccable. And these competitions were big ones: one Olympics, two World Championships, including the one where all this happened…

In Tokyo, in 1991, Carl Lewis would only win silver that day. But his jumping, with four marks over 8.80m is unrivalled. His shortest leap of 8.68 in Tokyo would have won EVERY SINGLE OTHER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BAR ONE (1995, when Ivan Pedroso jumped 2cm further). It would have won at every Olympic Games bar two: Beamon’s astonishing leap in 1968, and Lewis’ own winning jump in Seoul in 1988.

Those five jumps in 1991, when added together, fall a mere 65cm short of the entire six jump series of Ignisious Gaisah at the 2003 World Championships that averaged 8.00m dead. That’s essenitally the depth of the plasticine on the board (it’s not, even remotely, but you’ll forgive the hyperbole here I’m sure).

One final point on the lord of leaping: the top two lines in the table, where Lewis jumps on average 8.60m in Sestriere and 8.57 in California happen seven years apart. That’s not just consistency, that’s ridiculous.

Of course, you might argue that it isn’t entirely relevant to pore over the relatively few instances of consistently lengthy long jumping in competition when it isn’t what athletes are marked on (my wife certainly does, especially when there’s washing up to do).

But it must surely be true that a long jumper’s aim every time they take to the runway is to i) run down it, really fast and to ii) throw themselves, legally, really far into the sandpit.

If you do that with vigour six times, then you’re more likely to win than if you only manage it once.

If you can therefore perfect your run up and technique to ensure you hit the board every time and can push your distances without falling apart?

Well, then you’re Carl Lewis.

An addendum…

I reach out from time to time to a few people mentioned in these articles. Which is when this happened…

Note: this was originally published on Medium in July 2017 as in the tweet, but it’s not now. Now it’s here. 

The Ultimate Loser

There’s something beautiful about a tournament bracket. And if you disagree BOY are you on the wrong website.

The simple, ordered march of many down to one, the field halving in size each time. If it’s seeded the slow incline of the favourites cruising up the edges, squeezing everybody else out. If it isn’t, the madness of seeing competitors who shouldn’t be battling it out this earlier crunching into each other and letting lesser opposition sneak underneath. And, for me at least, the very easy opportunity to work out who in each particular tournament was the biggest loser.

* * * * *

If in the first round of a tournament you play the eventual winner  then you can sorta, kinda claim that you *MIGHT* have been the second best player in the tournament. After all, you just happened to meet the best player in round one. Who knows what would have happened if you’d had a bit of a run at it and avoided them altogether, or at least until the final. But you didn’t, you got lumped with them from the off. And so now you’re here playing Fortnite and gorging on olives (it’s how I imagine off duty tennis stars).

The Ultimate Loser is the opposite. The person with the least claim to have been done over because the person they lost to in the first round went on to lose in the second round to someone who lost in the third and so on right up through the defeated finalist. What makes tournament brackets so beautiful is they’re easy to work back to this point. Easy to work back to one solitary hero who started a chain of destruction that is as impressive as anything the champion can offer up on their run to victory.

Let’s celebrate two of those heroes from Wimbledon 2018, for example.

In the men’s singles Kevin Anderson lost to Novak Djokovic in the final. He had previously beaten John Isner, who had beaten Milos Raonic in the QF. His previous victim was Mackenzie McDonald who had beaten Guido Pella in R3 after the Argentine has despatched with Marin Cilic (the third seed!) in R2. The unlucky plucky loser to Cilic in round one? Yoshihito Nishioka, the 22nd year old Japanese world no. 259. Take your loser’s crown and wear it with pride.

In the women’s singles Serena Williams was the beaten finalist. She had knocked out Julia Gorges in the semis who had ended the dreams of Kiki Bertens in the quarters. That followed Bertens’ win over Ka Polskova who had in turn beaten Mihaela Buzarnescu in R3. In the second round local lass Katie Swan failed to get past Buzarnescu having beaten… drum roll please… Aryna Sabalenka in the first round. Please take a moment to applaud the 2o year old Belorussian and world no 32.

Of course, *technically* other people didn’t even make the main draw dropping out in qualifying. But there’s no glory in losing before the TV cameras are up and running.

And of course you can do this for any tournament at all. You can go back through the years at Wimbledon (in 2017 Zheng Saisai took the crown in the women’s singles, in 2016 the men’s singles Ultimate Loser was Santiago Giraldo, a worthy foil to home-turf winner Andy Murray), you can apply it to any other sport you choose…

True champions, one and all.

Colour Coordinated Champions of the World

When I was about 11 years old I was in a geography class at school and, since it was the end of term, the teacher had decided we’d have a quiz. This quiz had two main parts. 

The first, was to identify the locations of various cities. This could have been tough for a poorly-travelled child with a little over a decade on earth, but it was eased significantly by: a) a burgeoning knowledge of European football, b) a delight in being able to name all the Olympic host cities and c) a huge globe at my grandparents’ house (that housed booze, obviously). 

The second part was built around identifying countries by their flags. To nail this one, Olympiphilia was more than enough. 

It’s struck me ever since that a nerdy obsession with sport has various fringe benefits in terms of knowledge gained. A good handling of what kinds of names people have in different parts of the world for example, something that helps you take a decent stab a suggesting where an unknown Nobel laureate might have been born when asked to do so in a particularly fiendish pub quiz. And it gives you a decent grasp of the changing geo-political landscape too (”Well, the EUN team of former soviet nations competed at the 1992 games before any of the countries had a chance to set up an IOC, so I guess the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991?”). Again, useful in a fiendish pub quiz. Or to impress an immigration official on a date say.

And, of course, a deeply held love for global sport of any kind helps you get to grips with ALL OF THE FLAGS.

*  *  *  *  *

One of the things that tickles me when browsing historical line-ups Olympic finals (or other international sporting jamboree) is when the colours of the flags of the represented nations are matching. The symmetry of the same nation winning gold, silver and bronze for example. Or a whole load of crosses. Or stripes. Or, when everything is basically the same set of colours throughout.

Seriously.

I love it.

And I bet you do a little bit too (or you wouldn’t be reading articles explicitly about the nerdy details of the Olympic games, you’d be out riding a motorbike or shopping for trainers or whatever else it is normal people do with their time). 

So here’s a question to ponder:

Has a final (with 8 or so athletes, I’m not researching every heat and qualifying round, I’m not mental) ever consisted of athletes representing countries whose flag offers an *entirely matching* colour scheme? 

Deep breath…

Let’s find out.

*  *  *  *  *

First up, let’s define what I mean by this just so we’re all clear. I’m talking about flags who share the exact same colours.

The red, white and blue of the UK, the USA and France for example. Or Liberia, though it’s less likely.

So it looks something like this:
🇬🇧 🇺🇸 🇫🇷 🇱🇷

Or, more simply, the red and white of Poland, Denmark, Switzerland and Canada.

Which would be just lovely:
🇵🇱 🇩🇰🇨🇭🇨🇦

Got it? Good.

In the early days of ye olde modern Olympics, colour-schematic finals happened a lot. Not least because those three titans of the USA, UK and France – as noted above – share the same three colours on their flag and, at plenty of events at early games not many others were even trying to compete, let alone win. 

So we’ll scoot on by those examples (thank you very much St Louis 1904) and see if we can uncover anything with a bit more ‘same-coloured-spice’ in the post-war era… 

There’s a lot of ‘nearly made its’ (the kind of line-ups that originally piqued my interest). But the Germans 🇩🇪 – more often that not – and a clutch of successful Chinese 🇨🇳, Soviet era ☭, Brazilian 🇧🇷 and Italian 🇮🇹 athletes (or less often Spaniards 🇪🇸, Hungarians 🇭🇺, Swedes 🇸🇪 or South Africans 🇿🇦 / ‘the racist flag‘) pop up to ruin the red, white and blue fun (and yes, this IS fun). Cuba 🇨🇺, Norway 🇳🇴, Panama 🇵🇦 and Czechoslovakia 🇨🇿 (now the Czech republic) offer some nice alternatives to the ‘big three’, as well as the Dutch 🇳🇱, Australians 🇦🇺 and the New Zealand 🇳🇿 athletes.

And when we swill that altogether in a big pot of result-trawling we find success!
Thank god. I’ve taken time out from spending time with my son to write this.

So, by my reckoning there are three finals that have featured ‘colour schemed finals’ since the war, though two of them (both in 1948) are a bit of a fiddle. They are:

The fiddles come as the nations involved in the 1948 events were: Netherlands, UK, Australia, USA and Panama, whose flags all bore (and still do) red, white and blue. They also included Canada and Jamaica whose flags do not (though Canada’s red and white is still pleasing to the colour scheme). In 1948 both nations flags were yet to emerge into their independent designs, with both echoing Australia’s current flag as a clear subset of the Union Jack. 

1956 however, and that men’s 100m backstroke, is the duck’s pyjamas, as it were:

3x Australians 🇦🇺
3x Americans 🇺🇸
1x Frenchman 🇫🇷
1x Brit 🇬🇧

Red, White, BOOM! 🎉

There are a range of other finals with red, white and blue represented in each competitor however including the ‘64 men’s 1500m‘64 women’s 100m, and ‘68 women’s 100m (where Poland broke the red, white, blue scheme), and the ‘56 men’s 1500m freestyle‘56 men’s 100m freestyle, and ‘64 women’s 100m backstroke (where Japan broke the scheme). The 2008 women’s 200m breaststroke, and 2008 men’s eight also fit the representation of these three colours with Canada and Austria joining the fun alongside fully schemed-up members Russia and Norway. But I do enjoy (I do, I really do. This perturbs my wife.) both the 2012 women’s 100m hurdles final and the 2008 men’s lightweight coxless fours where the red, white and blue were the only colours involved, but they neatly separate into groups in the final order. Most pertinently, the 2008 men’s rowing result delivered three medallists with only red and white flags (Denmark, Poland and Canada), which must have made for a particularly minimalist and well art directed medal ceremony. This is what happens when you let the stylish Danes win.

🇩🇰 🇵🇱 🇨🇦

Some final points…

While not a clean sweep, there are a few events where the top eight (or more competitors) flew the red, white and/or blue:

And let’s finish on some special mentions:

  • The 2000 women’s BMX competition had 16 competitors, 12 of which flew red, white and/or blue (with China, mostly red, Argentina, mostly blue and Hungary,… ugh).
  • The 2008 men’s Keirin had only one competitor from the semi final stage that didn’t fly red, white and/or blue (a German, naturally) … well, if you can forgive the sun on the Malaysia flag. You can’t can you? Fine.
  • Of 53 medals awarded during the 2008 games in Beijing to male swimmers, a stunning 46 were won by nations flying red, white and/or blue (China, Hungary, Brazil and Germany scooped up 7 medals in the wake of Michael Phelps and his colour-schemed brethren)
  • All medals won in the women’s pole vault (which was first introduced at the Sydney games in 2000) have led to the flying of only red, white and blue on the podium… 🇺🇸 🇦🇺 🇮🇸 🇷🇺 🇵🇱 🇨🇺 🇬🇷 🇳🇿

Can you believe we got there? No, neither can I. But we did. And for that, we should all be glad.

Oh, and while this is of course all well and good for entertainment purposes (and yes, this IS entertaining), it’s really the brilliance of all colours at the Olympic games – well reflected in the flags from across the world – that make it the event it is.

Now, since that’s sorted, I wonder if the finalists in any event have ever finished in alphabetical order? Or age order? Or height order? 

Please feel free to find out…

 


Notes.

I looked at all Summer Olympic sports where a final event takes place between multiple competitors (i.e. shooting, weightlifting, cycling, rowing etc) but not the team sports, or any competition based on matches (tennis, badminton etc). I didn’t trawl through the Winter Olympics because it was quite sunny outside and it felt wrong.